How to disrupt yourself?

In my speaking career as a professional motivational and management speaker, I have spoken to over 300 plus companies across the globe and one particular challenge most companies face today is in the area of dealing with change. As people and companies get older, it’s easier for them to come up with a new idea but it’s highly unlikely for them to let go of an old idea that has worked well in the past.

We associate a lot of success today with the idea of disruption whether it’s individual or organizational.

Ever since Clayton Christenson coined the word ‘disruptive innovation’ in his 1997 bestseller, ‘The Innovators Dilemma’; many academicians and management consultants have hailed these words to continuously reiterate the need to stay relevant in this ever-changing world. Disruption is a form of creative destruction that displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. Disruptors are successful in creating new value and markets that perhaps never existed.

Amidst the high tides of change these days; it’s not only the businesses getting disrupted but also many long revered careers as well. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, the automation of knowledge work will have a $5 trillion to $7 trillion impact on white-collar jobs. Innovations like 3-D printing can threaten 320 million manufacturing jobs. Self-driving cars, robots, trucks, and drones will displace tens of millions more workers. As Daniel H Pink has observed in his book ‘The Whole New Mind’, the right brainers who are imaginative, intuitive empathetic and non-linear thinkers will dominate this conceptual age over taking the rational and analytical left brainers.

Countries and companies have already realized that if they don’t disrupt themselves, someone else will do it for them. Cannibalizing ones own success has become the new mantra for future survival. The biggest mistake companies and people do are always relaying on their past success by doing the right things for too long. The truth of the matter is that what has worked in the past may not work well for the future.

The future belongs to those who have the courage to disrupt their own past successes. It belongs to those who can avoid the nostalgia, to step into the unfamiliar breaking the borders of their own comfort zone.

Disruption is an act of reinvention. Disrupting yourself is about reinventing yourself. We all know that, what got us here will not necessarily get us there. Therefore reinvention is about adaptability and agility. It’s about how soon we can upgrade ourselves (just like a smart phone) and how fast we can act up on an idea with a strong sense of urgency.

In my opinion, there are seven ways you can disrupt yourself and your career to stay relevant in today’s changing times.

  1. Avoid the ‘Experience Fixation’

We can get wiser by experience but on the other hand we can get fixated on something while negating the usefulness of anything new. Experience fixation is fundamentally getting fixated on to something that is old and familiar and choosing to dislike other things that are not in accordance with their previous liking. For example, we get fixated with the music we liked and the movies we have grown up with. Over a period of time those genre become something like a fixation of choice keeping a deaf ear and eyes to enjoying anything new. As we grow older we become less and less open to new things.

While many people love the comfort of having familiar ground underfoot. They will say “ I only listen to the songs of Mohammed Rafi and all these new singers sound horrible and what they do is not music at all”. Experience fixation can make us take a rigid stand on something while disapproving all other alternatives whether it is fashion, food or any ideas.

If you want to reinvent yourself, you must keep an open mind. You need to be open to new experiences, new music, new television shows, new actors, and new trends.

Keeping our self open and curious give us the power to redefine the world around us. Obviously the world is changing around us and if we are willing to let go of the nostalgia – let go of everything that’s used to be good; then we can embrace the new with an open heart.

  1. Break the boundaries of your Comfort Zone

The number one obstacle to all our future success is our present success. Comfort is the enemy of achievement. As we grow older and achieve some goals in our lives, we tend to get into a comfort zone of doing something routine and familiar. Real growth on the other hand lies outside our comfort zone. We grow by doing things that are unfamiliar, risky and new.

Re-inventing oneself requires us to step outside our familiar territory of doing things. We may have to jump into a new role, new responsibilities, new locations, new industry or type of an organization to put ourselves in a new growth trajectory.

  1. Be a Strategic Quitter.

We have heard that ‘winners never quit; but then we have also heard, ‘doing the same things over and over will not get us a different result’. Winners quit the right stuff at the right time. They know when to hold and when to fold. A strategic quitter quit the right stuff and they do it when they see no future in that industry. They quit at the right time knowing the right time is at a distant or the idea is too old fashioned and plentiful. Successful companies have quitted on several projects that weren’t working.

Successful business leaders like Richard Branson, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos have let some companies live and others die and always, ceaselessly, experimenting. In total, while Branson is known to have started some five hundred companies, he has also shut down the two hundred of them that didn’t work.

Strategic quitting also means to quit on tasks that have the least long-term significance. In order to reinvent one self, you have to continuously do what’s major to your success and to discontinue doing those things that won’t really matter to your long-term success. To make any shift worthwhile you need to lose the sight of all other distractions that’s holding you back.

Re-inventing oneself takes several experiments, iterations and failures to arrive at the right measure of success. The key is to fail fast, fail cheap and to fail forward. Remember, strategic quitting is not an emotional decision; it’s always a rational and intuitive decision applying common sense above all else.

  1. Get regular feedback

Practice won’t make a man perfect. Practice with feedback makes any job perfect. Just doing something over and over again won’t necessarily lead you to do it well. When you get the right feed back, you make room for improvements.

Getting regular feed back from your work place and customers will help you improve your performance from mediocrity to excellence. Reinventing the self is a process of improving oneself with right feedbacks from the right people who cares for your growth. Sometime we can give a feedback to ourselves, if you take the seat of an observer and do a bit of introspection along the way. All disruptions start with introspection. How we understand ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, virtues and talents are the beginning point for creating major changes in our lives. Regular feedbacks from friends and colleagues can help you identify your core strengths and gives you a reality check on what works and what won’t.

  1. Focus on your strengths to stay unique

We can only build on our strengths and working on our weaknesses is actually a waste of time. We are all capable of doing something exceptionally well that most others can’t and vice versa. If what you do reliably well can be done by others just as effectively as you do, then you are dispensable in your career. In order to become indispensible, you need to stay as unique as possible. If you compete, you might become the number one but if you stay unique you will be the only one.

The world we live in is very competitive and people copy success instantly. Therefore you must focus on building your strengths to a level of unmatched excellence. Stay unique. The world pays you more for what you can uniquely do better than others.

Understanding your core strengths and acting on them is a reinventing process. For this; you need to identify those tasks that you can do it easily, effortlessly, enjoyably and naturally than most other people.

  1. Target a need that needs to be met

Disruptors deviate from the mainstream and find new streams of value creation and revenue generation. There are many unmet needs in our society. Disruptors think about creating value for others. They don’t compete with others instead they create unmatched value which will help them dominate the market place.

Renaissance Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli said that entrepreneurs are “simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”

Great disruptors see the world differently. They see opportunity while most see difficulty. They are not afraid of failure. They create new streams that will replace the old. They deviate from the popular paths to take on the roads less traveled. They get uncomfortable with the status-quo and challenge existing paradigms and long held assumptions. They drive change and that lead us to a new possibility.

  1. Learn and Grow.

The word ‘earn’ is comprised in the word ‘learn’ because they both go hand in hand. Alvin Toffler, a famous futurist once said that ‘the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who can not learn, unlearn, and relearn.” We are living in the conceptual age where previous concepts are getting replaced by new ones.

If you want to disrupt yourself, you need new skills that are relevant for today’s times. Basically there are four types of skills that are required to succeed today. The primary one is; Life Skills such as perseverance, optimism, patience that are often not taught at school. These are skills that shape our attitude for success. Secondly, you need Technical Skills, which help you become a technician to handle any specific knowledge on any particular area. Thirdly, you need People Skills or Management Skills, which helps you in getting along with a group of people towards attaining any common goal. Finally, you need Conceptual Skills, that helps you to create, share and collaborate on new ideas and projects that will help you innovate better.

We are all going to live in the future and surely we know that the future may not resemble much of the present. The big question is: Are we prepared for the future? Management guru Peter Drucker once said that ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it’ and let me add two cents to that- you don’t create the future in the future; you create them in the present. We all believe in the promise of a better future. But here is the irony: Your future success will not come from better circumstances; it will come only from a better you. This means to move forward in life, sometimes you need to move up, down and sideways. Another introspective question to that is: Are you nimble enough to move and grab on to the next opportunity?. Be a disruptor now, or you might get disrupted! 

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